Where: Lake Maria State Park is located about 55 miles northwest of Minneapolis and about 22 miles southeast of St. Cloud.
When: August 4 – 5
How: Northstar train from Target Field in Minneapolis to Big Lake (end of the line); bike from Big Lake station south on route #43, then west on route #39 through Monticello to route #11 (Clements Ave.). North on route #11 to the park entrance. We used Doug Shidell’s publication, “Northstar, You, Your Bike” to plan our route; it’s available to download for a price at www.bikeverywhere.com.
How long: Here are GPS data recorded by a trip member.
- Route: The bike route I recorded on my phone – shows speed, map, elevation gain etc. This is for our way there http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/161599775.
- The time is pretty accurate for time we were biking – I paused all the times we stopped (except at the Mexican supermarket).
- breakdown of miles: 5.5 miles from station to Monticello, 8 miles to ranger office in park, 2 miles to camper cabin (the last 3/4 mile on trail).
Note that the distance we recorded was significantly shorter than the distance listed in Shidell’s description, between 13+ miles to the park entrance, versus 19 miles. We were glad for the shorter ride because we had a pretty good headwind and were loaded with food and gear.
Ease: This is not a physically strenuous trip, but is definitely one for people who like to be active. Here are some details.First, you need to get to the train. Of the six participants five road to the station, the longest trip being about 7 miles, another person came by bus. The train sits on tracks one flight below the ticketing area, so you take an escalator (or elevator due to your gear) to the platform. The platform is not at the same level as the entrance to the wagons, so you need to lift your laden bikes up the steps, easy with one person in front and another behind lifting the weight. Just something to consider if you’re travelling alone. At this writing there is plenty of room to spread out on the train heading north on a Saturday morning (departure 11:30am, arrival 12:19pm).
A word about train schedules. The Northstar is a commuter train and unlike the light rail has limited service. Our return train Sunday at 2:43 pm was also the last train to Minneapolis – we couldn’t miss it. This required being disciplined about breaking camp and allowing enough time to bike back to Big Lake. Note that on Saturday the last train from Big Lake is at 5:13 pm, which makes a day trip to the area quite doable.
The bike ride itself to the park is flat to gently rolling through pleasant farm land. Traffic is light and shoulders good for biking. Within the park roads are gravel and hilly – could be a problem for narrow tired bikes. All campsites and camper cabins are remote, walk-in sites, so you always have to travel the gravel roads and then walk. We were in camper cabin #1, which Raja’s GPS put us at 2 miles from the entrance (the park map indicated 1mile on road and then 3/4 mile on trail).
Worth doing: This is a very pleasant trip, and Lake Maria Park is beautiful, with small lakes, hills covered in maple-basswood woodland, and not least, camp sites that are away from cars. To minimize gear, we chose to rent a camper cabin ($53.50 with the fee), like the campsites, remote and rustic. The site was picturesque, on a point between a lake and a pond. Trumpeteer swans on the lake and a big moon rising over it at dusk added to the ambiance. Reccomendations: spend time enjoying the site and the trails nearby rather than trying to canoe or kayak on Lake Maria, logistically difficult because of distance and the need to carry paddles from the park office; reserve space on a bike for a bundle of firewood which you would pick up when entering (avoids having to return for it); carry containers for water which you’ll fill in the park and carry to your site. None of them have water.